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U.S. President Donald Trump, second right, is flanked by, from left, Security Adviser John Bolton, the US ambassador to Finland Robert Frank Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a working breakfast with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018 prior to his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Finnish capital. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

 

For the better part of three days, a serious battle has been fought over the details of a story in The Atlantic magazine about a 2018 trip by President Trump to France during which a planned visit to a French cemetery for American military war dead was canceled.

Within 24 hours of the story hitting the internet, the Biden campaign and groups supporting Biden had professionally assembled political ads up and running in key states using the article as the basis for the Ad.  Hard to argue with the idea that Biden and the Democrats had coordinated with The Atlantic in advance.

The “thesis” of the article is the claim of a lasting disrespect for the US military and wounded veterans as exposed by a handful of anecdotal claims by various people through the course of Trump’s first term.  Some are beyond dispute, as Trump himself is on video as having said them — most notably his comments about John McCain and his military service.  But those comments cannot be divorced from the fact that Trump and McCain seriously disliked each other, and for Trump the political and personal don’t always remain separate.

The story is written by Atlantic Editor-In-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg.

But while the story has several threads that Goldberg trying to weave together into the central narrative core intended to be used against Trump by the Democrats, he starts the piece with the story of the trip to France in 2018, telling it in a direct and “first-person” fashion which is either true — or a deliberate and intentional fabrication.  His story begins:

When President Donald Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018, he blamed rain for the last-minute decision, saying that “the helicopter couldn’t fly” and that the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him there. Neither claim was true.

Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day. In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 Marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.

As noted, Goldberg “sources” his story to “four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day.”

That means four people, in the room, who all heard what Goldberg has put in quotes.  “Why should I go to that cemetery?  It’s filled with losers”.

Goldberg reports the next comment — about the 1800 marines who died at Belleau Wood — as “suckers” as coming in separate conversation on the same trip.

But there is no way to read Goldberg’s first quotes other than the comments were made in the meeting where the trip to the cemetery was scrubbed.

For this to be true, Goldberg’s story needs to be able to establish that Trump could have gone to the cemetery that day, but Trump chose not to go.  And it must withstand scrutiny with regard to the words that Goldberg quotes Trump as having said to those in attendance.

As to the first, documentary evidence exists in the form of military flight records which show the weather conditions for the flight that day were sub-optimal   The trip as planned was to be approximately 30-35 minutes via Marine One.  Responding to a FOIA request by journalist Jason Leopold, the Navy produced email communications from the day of the event confirming that it was military operations who recommended against making a helicopter flight that day.  Rain and low visibility — barely within tolerable limits — were forecast for the time of the flight, creating an unacceptable risk for transporting POTUS.  Travel by limousine would have involved a 90-120 minute trip each way on rain-slicked roads, without proper Secret Service advance planning or control over the route.

As for the second issue — the words attributed to Trump — the Atlantic and defenders of the story are backpedaling on the issue by claiming they are not reporting the specific time and location when the comments were made, just that comments of that nature were made by Trump at some time during the course of that day.

Fox New’s reporter Jennifer Griffin has become a defender of the piece claiming that she has independently verified the accuracy of the story.  Two days ago she reported that Trump was mad at French Pres. Marcon on the day of the planned trip, and he questioned why it was necessary to visit two cemeteries.  One of the officials told her there was not a security reason to not drive to the cemetery rather than fly.

It’s 55 miles from the US Embassy in Paris to the Aisne-Marne Cemetery in the French countryside east of Paris, and a good portion of the tripo is through metropolitan Paris.  This is just an idiotic comment made by someone with zero understanding of what the Secret Service does ahead of any visit by POTUS to anywhere in the world.

She quoted her source as saying “The President drives a lot.  The other world leaders drove to the cemetery.  He just didn’t want to go.”

That is not a confirmation of anything — that is a conclusion.  Her source doesn’t say he/she heard Trump say anything or is otherwise privy to Trump’s decision-making.  That is someone who took from the fact that Trump didn’t go, combined with that person’s OPINION that there was no reason to not drive, as a basis for concluding that Trump chose to not go because he didn’t want to go.

When Griffin came under attack, she used her own integrity to defend her reporting.

“I can tell you that my sources are unimpeachable,” Griffen told Cavuto. “I feel very confident in what we have reported at Fox.”

Griffin also stood by the credibility of her sources, noting that they are not anonymous to her and that she doubts “they are anonymous to the president,” as well. She went on to explain that people have been reluctant to step forward and speak about the President, after seeing how he “destroyed” people who have crossed him and how he has “weaponized” Twitter.

But Griffin is the one who deserves scorn here — whether she thinks her sources are “unimpeachable” or not is irrelevant.  The bias — or lack thereof — of her sources is for the news consumer to decide, not the reporter.  Her opinion is not a fact, and too many reporters are no longer able to discern one from the other.

Further, they did NOT confirm the Atlantic story as she claims — at not with respect to the France trip.  She did not say her source was “in the room” and that his information was a “first hand” account.

Monday afternoon John Bolton — no friend of the President — went on Fox News with Martha McCallum and said the story is false, as he was in the room when the decision was made, he identified everyone else in the room, and he described the events of the remainder of the day.  He said there was a planned pre-brief of the President for his 11:00 meeting with French President Marcon.  Pres. Trump was late — not unusual said Bolton — and when he came in John Kelly, the Chief of Staff, first raised the weather problems with regard to the planned afternoon trip to the cemeteries.  Bolton said the only people in the room were Kelly, one of Kelly’s aids, Bolton, SOS Pompeo and one of his aids, and US Ambassador to France Jamie McCord.  The entire meeting lasted 10-15 minutes, Kelly did most of the talking, and nearly the entire meeting revolved around the weather problems complicating the trip.  Pres. Trump simply assented to Kelly’s recommendation that they cancel the trip.

Goldberg’s story puts the words coming out of Trump’s mouth at that meeting in the morning, and Bolton said “It never happened.” Bolton wrote about the meeting in his book.  Bolton has criticized Trump endlessly — and vice versa since Bolton left the White House.  He has ZERO reason to speak out and defend Trump here.

John Kelly is not a coward.  He’s not a source who demands anonymity.  If Goldberg’s story were true, and in the face of the Administration’s on the record denials, I would expect Kelly would step forward and confirm it.  He lost a son in combat.  If what the Atlantic is reporting is true, why would Kelly hold back?  He has no motivation to do so. He did not leave the Trump Admin. on great terms either.]

Goldberg’s story has all the markers of a pre-election hit job — a willingly collaborative effort between anti-Trump partisans in the press and the Democrats.

Sadly, I think it’s just the opening effort of many similar efforts to come.